Monday Mornings with Madison

Is a Workaholic the Best Hire?

Some say that it is better to work smarter, not harder.  That makes it sound like old-fashioned hard work is just that… passe.  That is, however, hardly the case.  The most successful people are usually deemed the most “hard-working”.  And by hard working, they mean people who work many long, arduous hours.  In fact, they lead the pack of notorious workaholics.  Consider this list published by BusinessInsider in 2012.  Howard Schultz, Starbucks coffee mogul, works 13 hour days, 7 days a week.  Mark Cuban, Mavericks owner and serial entrepreneur, worked seven years without a single vacation.  Jeffrey Immelt, GE CEO, regularly puts in 100-hour work weeks.  If that seems excessive, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, used to regularly put in 130-hour work weeks while at Google, in part by sleeping under her desk.  Tim Cook, Apple CEO, works practically 365 days a year and commonly has staff meetings on Sundays.  Indra Nooyi, Pepsi CEO, works 13-hour days while raising two daughters.  Ryan Seacrest, radio and TV show host, carries what is considered a preposterous workload.  Carlos Ghosn, Nissan and Renault CEO, spends 48 solid hours per month in the air and flies over 150,000 miles for work every year.

In a culture that prizes work ethic, overachievement, and financial success, people who are ‘addicted to work’ are seen by employers, colleagues, and customers alike as smart and ambitious go-getters.   These chronic hard-workers have morphed into something else… workaholics.  And this is often a label worn like a badge of honor.  Employers see this ultra-focused work ethic as a positive, not negative.  So is that what employers really want in their next hire?  Should every employment ad say “Workaholic Wanted”?

Is a Workaholic the Ideal Employee?

What is the difference between a hard worker and a workaholic?  A hard worker will not waste time and seek to get as much done as possible during each normal work day.  The workaholic will work as many hours as needed to get the job done and regularly works overtime.  A hard worker will work on a weekend when there is an urgent project or special event that requires it.  The workaholic works most every weekend and only takes a weekend off for special occasions or life events that cannot be ignored.   A hard worker makes sure all critically important work is done in a timely manner.  A workaholic sees every task as critically important and therefore feels the need to work all the time.

Here are some other signs that an employee is a workaholic.  Customarily check and respond to emails at night.  Regularly work on weekends.  Skip vacations and work through illnesses like colds and migraines.  Return to work weeks – or even days — after childbirth.  Work even when in the hospital.  Work right after the death of a close, immediate family member.  Work around the clock and sleep only when necessary.

At most companies, such employees are praised and considered the epitome of committed.  Truth be told, many businesses would want to employ an entire company full of workaholics.  At a job interview, they would want candidates to list their worst flaw as ‘workaholic.’  Employment ads could read something like this:

Workaholic Wanted.   The ideal candidate wants to work 12-16 hour days, without overtime pay or comp time.  He/she doesn’t mind checking emails at home (when home), and will answer work-related calls even on weekends.  The right candidate is willing to drop everything and rearrange own schedule to meet a new sudden work demand.  He/she looks forward to weekends as quiet time to be even more productive.  Instead of dreaming about a ski vacation while sitting at work, the right candidate will be dreaming about work while on a ski slope.  In fact, candidate will feel guilty when not working, preferring to forego vacations and pass on long-weekends in order to get the job done.  The right person will never call in sick, never need personal time and will scoff at the idea of work-life balance.

It is easy to see the appeal of having workaholic employees.  To many employers, workaholics are viewed as proactive and driven.  They take ownership of all that they touch.  They don’t leave for tomorrow what they can do today.  They are eager to get to the next task.  They don’t look for ways to pass off a task to a colleague.  The words “not my job” are not part of their vocabulary.   They don’t cut corners.  They aren’t interested in time off.  Their attitude is always “yes, I can” instead of “no, sorry.”

At first glance, they do seem like the perfect employees to have.  However, while employers may believe the best employees are ‘workaholics’, this is fundamentally flawed thinking.  Why?  That’s because it is unsustainable for most people to be a long-term workaholics.  Workaholism is a compulsive behavior that usually erodes health, happiness and peace-of-mind… and therefore ultimately affects productivity.  Studies have shown that there are four basic elements that determine whether individual workaholics are happy and healthy.

  1. The manner in which their families accept their work habits (if they even have family)
  2. The amount of autonomy and variety that exists in their work
  3. The degree to which their personal skills and work styles match those required by their jobs
  4. Their general state of health

Workaholics who were satisfied with these four aspects of their lives generally felt good about themselves as well. So it is possible to be a happy, healthy workaholic.  However, those who‘d had difficulties with one or more elements were more likely to experience the negative effects of workaholism. They risked what might be termed the three occupational hazards of the intensely self-driven worker: burnout, family problems, and heart disease.

Burnout or Brownout.

Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and, eventually, a diminished interest in work.  Burnout is not just the simple result of working long hours.  The cynicism, irritation, frustration and lethargy of burnout can occur when an employee is working hard yet is not in control of how the job is done, is working toward goals that don’t resonate, is not respected or trusted in his/her work, the work is meaningless, and/or there is a lack of social support.  Burnout can lead to a complete nervous breakdown.

Family Problems. On a day-to-day basis, it’s not the workaholics who pay the biggest price for their work-obsessed lifestyles. Rather, it’s the people who live with them who suffer most. Because dedicated workers love their jobs so much, they tend to spend less time at home than most people. As a consequence, their families often feel neglected and unloved.  The result is often divorce.  On average, couples in which one partner is a workaholic divorce at twice the average rate (which is already about 50% nationally), according to a 1999 study conducted by Bryan Robison of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Health Problems. Similarly, studies have shown that workaholics may have an increased risk of coronary heart disease, especially if they are “Type A” personalities, which includes those with an excessive competitive drive and intense time urgency.  In fact, type A people are seven times more likely to develop coronary heart disease as are their Type B counterparts, which are more easy-going and aren’t so driven by time or competitiveness.

For companies that understand that employees are the lifeblood and most valuable resource of a business, these issues can become huge HR problems.  Most workaholics start out as a company’s star performer but end up either burnt out, divorced, or suffering from a heart attack or worse.  Those aren’t the kind of employees that a thriving, growing company wants.

Work-Life Balance

Instead of looking for workaholics, employers should seek hard working employees that seek to have a healthy work-life balance.  Work–life balance is focused on proper prioritization between work (career and ambition) and lifestyle (health, pleasure, leisure, family time, and spirituality). Boiled down to its simplest terms, work-life balance is about achieving something and enjoying something every day.   This is both simple and yet deceptively difficult to do.

Why is work-life balance so difficult to achieve?   First of all, work-life balance is a moving target.  It does not mean an equal balance. Trying to schedule an equal number of hours for various work and personal activities is usually unrewarding and unrealistic. Life is more fluid than that.  The best individual work-life balance will vary over time, often on a daily basis, for each person. The right balance for one person today will probably be different than for someone else today, and for that same person tomorrow. The right balance for a person who is single is different than for that same person when married.  And that balance will change again with children, or when starting a new career versus when nearing retirement.  There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all work-life balance to achieve. The best work-life balance is different for each person because each person has different priorities and different lives.

However, at the core of effective work-life balance are the concepts of achievement and enjoyment.  Achievement and enjoyment are the front and back of the coin of value in life. There cannot be one without the other, no more than there can be a coin with only one side. Trying to live a one-sided life is why so many “successful” people are unhappy and fall apart.  A balance of achievement and enjoyment each day helps avoid the “As Soon As….. Trap”; the energy-draining habit of planning for enjoyment “as soon as….” some milestone is achieved.  Perpetually putting off enjoyment for achievement is the definition of a workaholic.  And that should never be heralded as any company’s ideal employee.

Quote of the Week

“I used to be a classic workaholic, and after seeing how little work and career really mean when you reach the end of your life, I put a new emphasis on things I believe count more. These things include: family, friends, being part of a community, and appreciating the little joys of the average day.” Mitch Albom


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Is Less More When It Comes to Office Space?

Part 2 – Work Space, Creativity and Innovation

There has been a growing trend of businesses cutting back on the amount of work space allocated per person.  Sharing offices has become more common.  Cubicles are getting tinier.  And open shared space with a number of desks or work stations in one open area – once considered so cutting-edge — has become ubiquitous.  Employees are being packed into ever-smaller spaces.  There have been a few tech firms in the San Francisco Bay Area that have gotten to worker densities of up to seven workers per 1,000 square feet of space or 142 SF per employee.  The average just a decade ago was four workers per 1,000 square feet.  As the Russian adage says, they are packed so tight that there is no room for an apple to fall. Continue reading

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Is Less More When It Comes to Office Space?

Part 1 – Work Space and Productivity

Office design has been evolving over the last few years.  Once upon a time, all managers and executives had offices with walls, doors, desks and furniture.  Space was abundant and a deluxe office was a standard perk of working at most any successful company.  Clerical, secretarial and support staff also had individual work areas such as cubicles or were separated from other desks by partitions, cabinets and space. Continue reading

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Do We Still Need To Dress For Success?

Past studies have repeatedly shown that people judge companies, in part, by the outward appearance of its employees.  Likewise, employers evaluate employees, in part, on their ‘professionalism’ which includes appearance.  Over the years, research has validated that there is a bias in favor of well-dressed, well-groomed, good-looking people.  Indeed, for decades if not centuries, it has been widely understood that the visual aesthetic presented to others through appearance and apparel matters.

However, while business attire has been the de facto norm in corporate America for centuries, the hard-and-fast rules about corporate dress seem to be shifting.  Younger generations now feel that a person should only be judged by their inner qualities, not their outward appearance.   They argue that such things as casual clothing, tattoos, piercings, and unusual hair color don’t matter as long as an employee is intelligent, talented, skilled, and hard-working.  They also think that how a person looks on the outside (hygiene, attire, appearance) won’t influence how that person is perceived by others.  They ascribe to the wisdom that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and that one cannot tell a person’s character by his appearance.

That raises many questions about whether appearance still matters.  Does employee business attire really matter for a company’s success?  And does attire impact an individual’s success? In today’s changing work landscape, what constitutes professional versus unprofessional attire and appearance?  Is there still a clear line between what is and isn’t deemed ‘professional appearance’?  In today’s individualistic, casual culture, does the phrase ‘dress for success’ still have meaning?

Does Attire Still Matter?

Given today’s evolving views on attire, should appearance have any bearing on a person’s employability and career success?  Promotions?  Salary increases?  Bonuses?  If what a person wears neither enhances nor diminishes IQ or skills, does it or should it still affect career success?  The answer used to be a firm, unequivocal yes.  For decades, studies had proven that those with the best outward appearance (sharp but conservative attire, meticulous grooming, poised and confident) earned the most money and got the best jobs and promotions. It wasn’t so much the early bird that got the worm as much as the best-dressed bird.

But is that still true today?  Times are changing.  The management trend is toward a more relaxed workplace, in both space design and employee attire.  Increasingly, opulent management offices are being replaced by open work spaces.  Also, the HR Departments of many successful companies are adopting much more laid back approaches to employee attire and appearance.

Case in point.  In 2013, a person interviewing for an engineering/developer position at Google asked on Quora if jeans and a t-shirt was appropriate attire to wear to the job interview.  Once upon a time not so long ago, the answer would have been a definitive, resounding N-O!  However, Gayle Laakmann McDowell, Ex-Googler and author of Cracking the Coding Interview, replied that wearing jeans and a t-shirt to the interview was totally fine, but loosely recommended wearing jeans and a dress shirt “because, hey, why not?”  She added that really, no one cares. As a former member of the Google hiring committee, McDowell indicated that she had never seen anyone comment (in their feedback or even just in conversation) on how a candidate dressed.  As a final remark, she suggested that as a rule of thumb, a person should dress one small step up from the interviewers.  Since the vast majority of Google employees simply wear jeans and t-shirts to work, it’s not much of a leap to dress one small step up from that standard.

Google is perhaps the first and foremost example of the laid back corporate culture.  In fact, one of the company’s 10 principle philosophies is that “you can be serious without a suit.” Not only is the dress code casual, but the overall look and feel of the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California is also laid back and fun.  However, legendary Google is not alone in this HR shift.   Zappos, Facebook, Electronic Arts, Twitter, Genentech, AOL, Mars, and of course Apple (to name just a few) are all major companies that have adopted a more casual workplace atmosphere, including a relaxed dress code.  If so many major companies have gone ‘casual’ and not just on Fridays, does that mean that dress and success are no longer inextricably linked?  Are suits and business attire another dying relic?

Dress Code 2.0

For those that think that business attire and strict dress codes are fast becoming a thing of the past, think again.  Just as some companies are adopting a more relaxed dress code to attract and retain talented hires and spur creativity, other companies are going in the opposite direction.

Indeed, although the tech boom brought with it a laissez-faire attitude to dress code — adding business casual to business vocabulary – there is a growing trend moving business attire back to where it once was. Big business is going back to a more formal dress code, realizing that they only have one opportunity to impress their clients.

The Middle of the Road

Rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to employee attire, some companies have opted to offer different dress codes for different departments.  In a department dealing with clients, a manager might be expected to wear business attire… a suit and dress shoes.  But the accounting and IT departments in that same company, who never deal with customers, might be allowed to wear jeans and casual shoes. Customer-engaging staff would dress in a way that is suited to the audience.  The approach is that the fashion should fit the function.  There might be a designated day that allows for business casual attire.

While traditional business attire may sound stuffy, companies understand that clients must be thought of as first priority. Proper attire leaves an invaluable professional impression on clients.  Overall, customer perception must be the underlying factor in making any business decision, even the menial ones. The company benefits by forever putting its best foot forward.  And, in turn, employees who show that they care about the company by dressing for success are more likely to do well also.

Pride in Appearance

To be clear, people who succeed in business come in every shape, size and personality type.  They wear all kinds of clothes.  Smart and successful people don’t necessarily need to dress a certain way to be successful.  And not every day requires the time and attention (and cost) for formal business attire. Some days, sitting behind a computer screen for eight uninterrupted hours really begs for nothing more than comfortable, casual attire.

However, the truth is that what is presented on the outside often speaks (either accurately or inaccurately) to what’s on the inside.  It is perhaps a bit too optimistic, to the point of naïve, to think that people will only judge based on a person’s inner qualities.  Before one ever gets to know a person, they “see” them first.  Before the first word is ever uttered, impressions are formed and judgments are being made.  Tailored clothes = sharp mind.   Wrinkled shirt = sloppy work habits.  Does that mean that a person wearing faded jeans and a t-shirt is unqualified or incapable?  Of course not.  Could that attire give that impression?  It could.  Does that matter?  It depends on who is getting that impression?  A client.  Definitely.  A coworker.  Perhaps.  A boss.  Absolutely.  It has been proven that dressing well can increase a person’s income and increases the chances of getting promoted.  Moreover, dressing well is important to one’s self-respect and composure.

So, despite new trends to dress down and relax, dressing for success still matters at certain times and places, based on the context.  Companies can dare to create Dress Codes that aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach and offer options based on audience.  Ultimately, attire should be a matter of self-pride.  Employees who want to make a good impression with clients, bosses and coworkers would do well to remember that appearance does matter… will always matter…. as long as people have eyes and can see.

Quote of the Week

“Great men are seldom over-scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire.” Charles Dickens


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Avoiding Email Blunders

Email is a key tool that allows business professionals to communicate very quickly in writing in great detail.  It has replaced traditional phone calls and long-winded memos.   Emails have also greatly reduced the need for group meetings just to share information.  Emails also serve as written proof or validation of past requests, instructions and discussions.  Practically no business today operates without email. Continue reading

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Benefits Employees Want Most – Part 2

Although the most headline-grabbing economic issue in the U.S. during the last decade was the ballooning unemployment rate, this particular woe has been decidedly declining in direct proportion to the rise in jobs.  With the Department of Labor Statistic reporting unemployment holding at about 5.6% – 5.7% since October 2014, job gains are still being reported in retail trade, construction, health care, financial activities, and manufacturing in January 2015.   Ironically, though, a decline in unemployment is now accentuating a different concern for U.S. businesses; namely, the need for more highly-skilled employees.  U.S. companies report wanting to only hire people who are “job ready.”   But such skilled workers are increasingly harder to find. Continue reading

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Benefits Employees Want Most – Part 1

Salary is not the only variable that employees factor when considering a company to work for or job to keep or leave.  While pay is obviously a primary concern – after all, the reason people work is to earn a living – there are a number of other variables employees consider when deciding where to work.  An employee’s benefits package is often just as important.  However, which benefits are valued most by employees depends on the employees and their particular circumstances.  A woman with small children might value flexible work hours and a Flexible Spending Account for child care while a man nearing retirement might value a company’s 401K plan and more vacation time.  One might say that the benefit of a benefit is in the eye of the beholder. Continue reading

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To Be A Top Salesperson in 2015, Embrace Rejection!

Being a salesperson can be a challenging – and at times even downright daunting — occupation (which is perhaps why they are usually very well-compensated).  Selling involves a number of skills that many people are either weak at or don’t possess at all.   The best salespeople are outgoing, friendly and sociable.  They are never intimidated and are comfortable talking to anyone.  They genuinely like people and people like them.  They are skilled communicators, knowing what to say and what not to say to gain a potential customer’s interest.  They are able, savvy negotiators, adept at overcoming objections and finding a solution that meets the needs of those involved. But most of all, the best salespeople are tenacious, with tremendous perseverance and a deep capacity to accept rejection and keep going.  In fact, being able to handle rejection well is perhaps the most important skill of any professional, full-time salesperson.  After all, most salespeople will hear “no” many, many times before getting a “yes.” Continue reading

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The Challenges Ahead for U.S. Businesses in 2015

According to President Obama’s State of the Union Address this week, “After a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.  Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”  Indeed, just a few weeks into 2015, the nation’s economy does seem to be in the best shape it’s been since before the Great Recession (which is indeed good news, but certainly does not set the bar very high). U.S. employment increased by nearly three million jobs in 2014.  Unemployment decreased a full percentage point between 2013 and 2014, dropping to the current 5.6% — the lowest rate since 2008 and the largest year-over-year decline since 1984.  If things continue on this track, the U.S. is predicted to reach 5% unemployment by the end of the year, which is nearing that economic nirvana of “full employment”.  Also, declining oil prices have helped bolster consumer purchasing power.  The U.S. dollar is also at its highest value in many years.   These are all good indicators. Continue reading

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To Change a Behavior, Change the Environment

At the beginning of a year, many people make resolutions to change.  They want to break a bad habit or start a good habit.  Or they want to improve or reduce how or how much they do something.  For some, the change is personal.  Lose weight.  Eat healthy.  Exercise.  Stop smoking.  For others, the change is professional.  Stay organized.  Find greater work/life balance.  Be on time to work.  Have more patience.  Be more pleasant to customers.  For each person, it is a different resolution.  Yet, everyone basically wants to do the same thing:  change a difficult-to-change behavior.  (After all, if it was easy to change the behavior, there’d be no need for a resolution!) Continue reading

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